Editor's note: On August 8, after this review posted, Conferral released version 1.1, which now includes two-way document editing and video streaming. These enhancements did not alter our rating for the service. (10/19/05)
Conferral is by far the most affordable Web conferencing program we've tested. Unlike better-known competitors such as Microsoft Live Meeting and WebEx Meeting Center, Conferral users don't shell out monthly fees to use the service, but rather pay a one-time purchase price of $299 to $4,485 (depending on the number of users, from 1 to 25). By comparison, Live Meeting 2005 costs from $180 to $4,500 annually, depending on the features and number of users selected. While Conferral is definitely a bargain, it has several shortcomings--no text chat, audioconferencing, or two-way document editing, to name a few--and that greatly limits its value. Our take: Conferral has potential but is still wet behind the ears. We'd like to see more features built into the product before we can recommend it.
Like Live Meeting 2005, Conferral integrates nicely with Microsoft Office. During download and installation, which takes about 10 minutes, Conferral adds its Confer menu to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. It also inserts a Confer toolbar into Outlook, thereby making it easy to schedule meetings.
The learning curve is minimal. For instance, let's say you're working in Word and want to discuss a marketing brochure you're writing with a colleague in another city. You simply click Confer > "Revise live via screen confer," then invite meeting attendees via Outlook, which loads automatically. When participants receive your e-mail invitation, they click a link in the body of the e-mail; their Web browser loads with the Word documents already inside. Attendees don't need to install Conferral in order to participate in a meeting.
We give Conferral high marks for ease of use. The program is a snap to learn, and its Office integration is impressive. Unfortunately, version 1.0 lacks essential Web conferencing features. For instance, it doesn't support two-way editing. Attendees can watch the meeting organizer edit a document, but they can't make changes themselves. (Version 1.1 will support two-way editing, Conferral says.) There's no chat window or built-in audio- or videoconferencing, so you'll have to bring your own. One option is to chat via instant messenger, another is to talk via telephone. Either choice, however, adds a layer of complexity to online conferencing, a layer that most meeting participants would rather not fuss with.
Support options are above average and include e-mail, various online FAQs, and toll-free telephone support.